By Wayne Rivers, Family Business Institute
During the current unusual business environment, media pundits — and even friends and neighbors — are speculating about what changes we are now experiencing are likely to be permanent. We were able to quickly develop a list of 14 things that are likely to change on a more or less permanent basis. We also came up with three things that should absolutely not change. If you want to run a successful construction company. Things likely to change:
- How we greet each other. Shaking hands is an age-old tradition, but it may be changed permanently. Hugs fall into the same category.
- How we gather and celebrate. High school and college graduates are going to have very different experiences this spring compared to previous years. Celebrations of all kinds have taken on new forms for the last couple of months, and some of the changes are likely to persist.
- How we communicate (both personally and in business). While the learning curve has been quite steep, virtual communication is the rule of the day. Now that many people are working from home and are adjusted to this new normal, the trend is likely to have staying power.
- Perceptions of remote work. Many contractors have frowned on and discouraged remote work. Now, out of necessity, they've embraced it, and that’s likely to affect their attitudes over having employees physically present in an office versus working remotely. As long as people are productive, why fight the trend?
- How we view celebrity. We seem to be doing okay without sports, new movies, Broadway-type shows, and other forms of entertainment. We are suddenly much more interested in people who make our lives visibly better — like the people who pick up your garbage or the people that rush to your assistance when your heat or air conditioning fails
- How we view winter. Every year, we hear about cold and flu season. We get vaccinations, and we accept that, despite our precautions, we’ll get sick occasionally. Next winter, cold and flu season is likely to be viewed in a much different light.
- Touching things in public. People are using hand sanitizers and antibacterial wipes to do mundane things like pump gas or open doors. The way people touch common objects in public places will almost certainly change permanently.
- How we educate our children. Parents may decide that home schooling isn’t so bad; they may even enjoy it. Traditional schooling for young people in classrooms will likely decline.
- How colleges educate students. It’s going to be difficult for colleges to justify huge tuitions, room, and board if they can deliver the same value virtually. Parents might welcome the savings associated with not having to cart young people off to university.
- Attorneys are expecting huge increases in business. Specifically, divorce and bankruptcy attorneys are expecting sharp increases.
- Foreign relations. America’s orientation towards international and strategic relationships is a hot topic and will likely change pending further review.
- Manufacturing and supply chains. Many strategic, military, and healthcare related items are likely to come home for domestic production. Supply chains are also going to be under review.
- Individuals’ relationships to the government. Unemployment checks are quite welcome — especially for people who thought they would never be without gainful employment. At the same time, others are in state capitals protesting what they see as unreasonable lockdown. Viewpoints with respect to government are definitely in flux.
- Media, experts, and computer modeling. Given the sensational projections at the outset of the pandemic and the spectacular delta between projected versus actual mortality rates, people are likely to be more skeptical of computer models and the experts who tout them in the media.
What things then should you NOT change if you aspire to continue your successful construction firm?
- Your mission. Your mission is why you come to work every day, your purpose for having a business, and it should change very rarely indeed. In fact, you should dial into your mission now more than ever while cementing it ever deeper into your co-workers’ hearts and minds. Keep it super simple and memorable; one line is perfect for most. In tough times, it is the rally point for everyone on the team, and your mission is too important to be derailed by current events.
- Forecasting and planning. If you weren't good at planning and forecasting your business numbers before, you're building up those muscles right now. Look at your pipeline of work and determine what’s really solid. Then assume a 20% drop from there and stress test your income statement and balance sheet. You have to know how much of a shock your company can take before you have to start cutting head count and other expenses. Be skeptical and don't fall prey to irrational exuberance; virtually every contractor is experiencing disruption either in the form of delays or outright project cancellations.
- The need for peers. As soon as the news emerged that we were heading toward a lockdown economy, the first thing on our to-do list was to reach our peer group. We wanted to know what they were seeing, what they were doing, and how their members were reacting. Peer group members are communicating with each other far more than before the pandemic. They have virtual meetings either weekly or biweekly to get updates on current events and related changes. They're leaning on and depending on each other more than ever before, and that’s a tremendous resource in times of uncertainty. The current situation is likely to change all of us in ways large and small. Some of the changes will have little impact and some will be longer-term. The three things that will not change for successful contractors are mission, planning and forecasting, and reliance on industry peers.